Lagoon fightback: minister fishing in troubled waters
Molewa backs plan for fish farms in Langebaan's bay waters despite residents' pollution and shark fears
Bathers in the Langebaan Lagoon may soon have more than wind and currents to contend with.
Two proposed industrial-scale fish farms in the bay waters of the lagoon now have the backing of Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, despite fears from locals they may damage the environment, pollute protected lagoon waters and even attract sharks.
Last month, Molewa dismissed numerous appeals against her decision to grant environmental authorisation for both the private aquaculture farms and the creation of a large aquaculture development zone (ADZ) in the area.
The move has alarmed several stakeholders in the hospitality and sporting sectors, particularly sailors for whom the Langebaan Lagoon is a popular yacht-racing destination.The South African military also objected to the farms, claiming the fish cages anchored to the lagoon could wreak havoc with their training manoeuvres.
The aquaculture farms would feature fin fish species like Atlantic salmon that receive fish feed. A farm already exists closer to the Saldanha harbour.
Langebaan Lagoon is also a protected area in terms of the Ramsar agreement (a convention on wetlands), which means the South African government is obliged to protect the lagoon’s internationally recognised coastal waters.
Civil group Save Langebaan Lagoon (SLL), representing 1,300 affected residents and organisations, is now considering a legal challenge to overturn Molewa’s decision. “Because the lagoon is so shallow it means the risks are heightened,” group spokesperson Jennifer Kamerman told Times Select. “Within the context of the Langebaan lagoon the ecological risk of (environmental) degradation is huge.”
She added that ecological damage would have a negative knock-on effect for the local economy.Kamerman questions whether the minister had properly considered the possible negative impacts on the lagoon – and her appeal decision was therefore questionable. Residents’ groups believe aquaculture farms should rather be located on land where they can create jobs without causing damage.
SLL has also taken to social media to raise awareness about the proposed farms. “Save Langebaan Lagoon committee will meet to formulate a plan as to next steps in stopping this looming ecological and socio-economic threat to Langebaan,” the group said in a Facebook post, adding that a judicial review of the minister’s decision would follow.
“If the court finds that the decision by Minister Molewa (the ‘administrator’) is unlawful, unreasonable or procedurally unfair it can make any of a number of possible orders to rectify the situation.
“Our big fight has just begun,” the organisation said.
The Department of Environmental Affairs could not be reached for comment at short notice this week. However, the minister’s reasons for dismissing appeals related to environmental and public participation concerns are detailed in Molewa’s appeal decision published last month.In it she backs the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ (DAFF) plan to mitigate against the concerns raised by objectors, including concerns about possible increased shark activity: “With regard to the increase in shark activity, the DAFF submits that mitigation measures such as predator exclusion nets, immediate removal of any dead fish and the avoidance of processing at sea, will be adhered to,” Molewa said.
The minister said she was also satisfied that DAFF had conducted adequate public participation, and had reduced the proposed size of the ADZ “in order to reduce marine ecology, socio-economic, visual and heritage impacts”.
But Kamerman said the proposed site was still incongruous with a world-renown biodiversity hot spot: “If the proposed development is not stopped, the iconic expansive, uncluttered vistas of tranquil turquoise waters and the largely unrestricted enjoyment thereof will become curtailed through no-go zones around the fish farms and the likelihood of no-access days due to toxic effluent contamination.”